Mexico’s most famous capo escapes from prison – again – while top officials fly to Paris

Official photo from the press conference announcing the capture of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in February of 2014.

Mexico’s most famous drug lord escaped from a federal maximum security prison over the weekend. Shannon Young reports.

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Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman walked out of the Altiplano federal maximum security prison on Saturday while Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was mid-flight to Paris for a lavish official visit.

It’s the second time in fifteen years Guzman has escaped from a federal maximum security prison.

The president’s entourage for the trip to France included ten members of his cabinet. That meant the first Mexican official to face the press about the embarrassing escape was National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.

In a Sunday morning press briefing, Rubido gave the official version of what happened, saying guards went to check Guzman’s cell Saturday night after noticing he wasn’t visible via the prison’s video surveillance system. Rubido said what they found was a hole in the shower area that connected to a kilometer-and-a-half-long underground tunnel with lights and ventilation.

Rubido took no questions at the breifing, meaning nobody had the opportunity to ask the national security chief why a drug lord famous for building tunnels under the US-Mexico border was held on the prison’s ground floor.

After his arrival in the French capital, President Peña Nieto read a prepared statement to reporters at the Mexican Embassy. Speaking in the plural about “escaped criminals” the president called the jailbreak “an affront to the Mexican state” but that he has faith in the ability of the institutions to recapture a criminal he left unnamed.

In the same speech, Peña Nieto made clear that he would neither cancel nor cut short his week-long trip to France to promote foreign investment. One cabinet level official who was sent back to Mexico to manage the crisis is Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the second highest-ranking Mexican official after the president.

The full implications of the jailbreak are yet to emerge, but the high-profile escape could provide the United States government with leverage to demand the extradition of other top drug lords held in the very same prison.

Meanwhile, many in Mexico are questioning the costly official visit to France.

More than 400 people are part of the entourage, including 150 members of the armed forces and gendarmerie scheduled to parade through the streets of Paris Tuesday as President Peña Nieto takes part as the guest of honor in France’s official celebration of the La Bastille jailbreak.

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